Saturday, September 13, 2008

Unwilling to Give Up the Ghost - or the Stargate, as the Case May Be

You know you’re truly a hardcore fanboy/fangirl when you stage a protest rally when your favourite SF TV show gets creamed by the network execs. Not sullenly mutter to yourself. Not bitch to your friends. Not piss and moan to your fellow blogoids online (as many geeks, yours truly most especially, are wont to do on occasion). Not even furiously put pen to paper in a retro-Trek campaign or lobbying of network sponsors. No, the ultimate uber-geeks are the ones to whom a cancellation is just so totally unacceptable that they’re willing to hit the streets, glasses pushed resolutely up the bridge of the nose, placard in hand, and, after some initial confusion caused by the sudden exposure to the outside world and the recovery from injuries sustained during the assembly of the afore-mentioned signage, stage a rally in front of the offending studio.

According to an article in today’s Vancouver Sun, that’s just what a group of Stargate Atlantis enthusiasts planned on doing today, with a protest scheduled to take place outside of the Bridge Studios in Burnaby, where the show has been filmed. Apparently, they’re steamed that “Stargate Atlantis” has been sunk and they’re insisting the Sci Fi Channel change its mind. Allegedly there are rumours of other, similar protests planned for LA and New York and possibly overseas.

I’m not sure whether Burnaby protest actually took place, and if so, how many people bothered to show.

Now some of you may be wondering why I wouldn’t know this, especially when my office is within spitting distance of the studio. Why, having read the story this morning about a planned SF-related protest that was going to take place nearby, why, with my background as a reporter, didn’t I nip over at lunch or spin by after work to check it out? Admittedly, my old journalistic spider senses were tingling – an SF-related news story unfolding and me with this geeky blog and all, but I didn’t indulge them. And there were a couple of reasons for that. Firstly, I’m not a fan of the Stargate franchise. I don’t dislike it; it merely doesn’t interest me. Then there’s the fact that the paper didn’t list the time of the planned protest – hard to convince the boss to let me duck out of work every hour just to check. Then there’s the fact that I was just too busy to pull myself away from the office, even at lunch, and after work I had to get home right away so my wife could use the car to get to her personal trainer. In short, there were other, more important things on the go. I have a life.

And therein lies the root of my puzzlement about this whole protest (assuming it went ahead).

How do these people find the time to stage a protest about a cancelled TV show during a weekday? How could they possibly get off work? What kind of boss would allow that? Would the conversation go something like:
Boss: “So you want the afternoon off to take part in a protest?”
Fanboy: “Yessir.”
Boss: “A protest over a TV show getting cancelled?”
Fanboy: “Yessir.”
Boss: “One of those nerdy sci-fi TV shows?”
Fanboy: “Yessir. ‘Stargate Atlantis’, sir. And, respectfully, sir, it’s not nerdy.”
Boss: “So this isn’t a ‘Star Trek’ thing?”
Fanboy: “Nossir. It’s a ‘Stargate Atlantis’ thing.”
Boss: “’Cause if it’s a Star Trek thing, I’d say ‘no’.”
Fanboy: “Nossir. I mean, yessir. I mean, nossir. Uh….”
Boss: “’Cause you remember what happened with the last Star Trek thing?...”
Fanboy: “Yessir. Won’t happen again, sir. Not the same thing at all, sir.”
Boss: “Good. ‘Cause if I hear about you betting any ‘kwatloos on the newcomer’ or anything…”
Fanboy: “Nossir.”
Boss: “Alrighty then. You can have the afternoon off.”

Not gonna happen, is it? Did these people stage a quicky over their lunch break? Did they cash-in some OT or holiday time or call in sick? Are they doing shift-work and just happened to not be on the schedule that day? Are they self-employed? Unemployed? Shouldn’t these people be earning a living? What about families or kids or friends? (okay, well, fine, their friends were probably picketing with them)

More to the point, WHY would you go to the effort (and expense – signs aren’t free and gas ain’t cheap) of staging a protest over a cancelled TV show?!? It’s just a TV show, people!!! I mean, as a fan, I’ve had feelings ranging from disappointment to being mighty pissed from time to time when a favourite show was cancelled – no one who’s passionate about a story is happy when it finally has to end (one way or the other) – but I sure wouldn’t stage a protest over it! A strongly-worded letter/email to the network might be in order, or a scathing online editorial, maybe even an online campaign to convince the network to change its mind – all of these can be cathartic if nothing else, and can let the network know how you feel without taking much of your time or effort. But protesting requires more time, expense and an actual physical effort. Too much effort, I say, when the network probably won’t pay attention - especially when MGM’s already announced it will continue the franchise with a new series. And it’s too much effort to expend fighting the end of a TV show. A TV show! If this was a hospital or a community school for disabled kids or an animal shelter or even a heritage building, I could understand how a protest could be worthwhile. If it was a rally for more money for cancer research or to put an end to bullying, you bet! But a TV show? Sure, everybody’s got their own priorities in life, but waving placards over a cancelled show indicates a fairly significant reality check is needed. I’m a fan of good SF, but there’s a point where you’ve gotta step back and ask what’s really important in life, and there are probably a lot of things in your community that rank a lot higher than some weekly flick on the boob tube. For starters, pick a charity you believe in and use your talents and energy helping it.

In addition to being a massive misalignment of priorities, this behaviour also points to something else wrong – it seems to be an inability to accept and deal with a fundamental part of storytelling and the story listening/reading/watching experience: one way or another, all stories come to an end. We, as readers/listeners/viewers have to accept that. We may not like it, we may not agree with it, but it happens. And when it happens, you do what someone who truly appreciates good SF does, you remember the old series fondly, rewatch it in reruns and on DVD on occasion, but most importantly you move on and find other quality SF shows to watch. To insist that one show continue to go on and on and on just because it’s your favourite is to risk condemning it to degrade in quality from sheer weariness until it becomes a mockery of itself, a shambling zombie of a show… a soap opera that keeps twisting its plot, not to better the story, but merely to keep adding another episode onto the pile. Case in point: “Gundam” What the hell is that show about after all these years? I don’t think the writers even know. The refusal to accept that a show is ending points to a denial of the fact that life is full of endings. It points to a desperate need to seize control of something and keep it going just to prove that one actually has the power to stave-off the inevitable. But that’s an artificial sense, it’s unrealistic, and it doesn’t allow a person to move on to new and possibly better things.

Now, you may argue that I’m a cynic. You may point out that an outcry by fans gave the original “Star Trek” a new lease on life, that it aided “Babylon 5” in reaching the end of its magnificent 5-year story arc, and that it enabled the wonderful “Firefly” to get another shot, this time on the big screen, with the immensely smart and entertaining “Serenity”. You may say that it’s not just fannish delusions of self-empowerment, that taking the networks to task actually works. But let’s face facts: Trek was limping in its last season and was eventually yanked well before it’s famous “5-year mission” could be fully presented; B5, for all of the fact that it did finish its story, saw its successor series Crusade and the various attempted successor series blown away; and Firefly, despite the movie, won’t be coming back to network television. Sooner or later, studios get their way and series end. It may be a crime that “Firefly” was never given a chance, or that B5 wasn’t given the budget or understanding to continue with new stories, but that’s the TV business. Series end. New ones come along. Parading around in front of the studio, especially in small numbers, isn’t going to make much, if any difference.

Let’s not forget either that SGA had a pretty good run. 5 years is very good for an SF show. There’s nothing wrong with it coming to a close after that kind of track record, especially when some of its elements might be preserved in the new addition to the franchise that’s currently in development or in other media formats like books and computer games.

I know some Stargate fans might read this editorial and dismiss me as a jaded son-of-a-bitch who doesn’t appreciate the power of the people and the effectiveness of a passionate and well-organized protest rally. I know there are some who will say I just don’t understand because I don’t follow the show and thus don’t appreciate what, in their view, is genius. That’s their opinion and that’s okay. But as an SF fan, I have seen favourite shows, like B5, Firefly, and soon Battlestar, fall by the wayside. And with each I’ve bought the DVD collection and learned to move on and look for the next worthwhile show to flicker across my screen. I haven’t hit the picket line. I don’t have the time.
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